Anything involving an 800-year-old boulder, a big piece of plate glass and Queen Elizabeth II deserves a dry run, and that's exactly what the Brunet craftsmen did Friday.
Brunet Monuments, best known for their granite grave markers, was tasked with creating and inscribing what will be the cornerstone of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, featuring a stone ruin from Runnymede, the English meadow where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.
"It was unbelievable when we got the call," said Benoit Brunet, the company's fourth-generation craftsman. "It was such a thrill to get such a prestigious job for the Queen, especially in our 100th year. I couldn't be prouder."
The Runnymede stone, a little bigger than a shoebox, was chiselled long ago into a rough rectangle and looks like a ruin from a medieval castle or tower. It fits like a puzzle piece into a cutout Brunet made in a huge Tyndall stone tile. A thick piece of glass is placed over top to protect the stone, and Brunet has etched an official message and the Queen's royal insignia into the glass.
To avoid a mishap, Brunet and his father practised putting the pieces together Friday in preparation for the grand unveiling this evening at The Forks, the last and biggest stop in the Queen's six-hour visit to Winnipeg.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will walk with the Queen and Prince Philip over the Esplanade Riel, past the museum construction site and the cornerstone and on to the royal box at the Scotiabank stage to catch a portion of an all-day concert. They'll be joined by Harper's wife, Laureen, Heritage Minister James Moore, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Premier Greg Selinger and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz.
The PM's visit, announced Friday, will be almost as brief as the Queen's -- just a couple of hours and then he's headed back to Ottawa.
The entourage will also take a moment to check out a dozen human rights-themed art projects done by young adults as part of a national competition that brought the winners to Winnipeg to tour the sites. Few imagined they'd find themselves face to face with the monarch when they entered.
"I'm nervous I don't have the right pants," laughed Jack Saddleback, a 21-year-old Calgary artist whose self-portrait honours the struggles of transgendered people.
One person who certainly has the right pants is Lt.-Gov. Philip Lee, who must be the first to greet the Queen when she arrives and the last to bid her adieu. Lee is not even a year into his duties, but he's already met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and said he's not nervous about the intricately planned visit. Lee said he has learned to avoid gaffes by shutting up, listening to his advisers, and keeping calm.
"That's the way to train yourself to behave well," he said.
Lee will be hosting a private luncheon for the Queen at Government House and he'll have to give a short speech in the garden afterwards.
"You'll hear for the first time a Chinese-Canadian man trying to give a speech in French," joked Lee.
He is a British subject, having been born in Hong Kong when it was a British colony.
Lee went to Catholic school in Hong Kong and was baptized when he was about six. When the priest asked him what English name he would like, Lee looked up and saw a portrait of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.
"I said, 'I want his name,' " said Lee.
Avoid a royal gaffe
When U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama gently touched the Queen's back shoulder during a visit to Buckingham Palace last year, the British media balked at the violation of protocol. Here's how to avoid the same mistake.
Don't touch the Queen. You can (and should) take her hand if she offers it, but she must offer first. Take off your gloves and shake gently. She is 84, after all.
Address her as "Your Majesty" first and then, after that, "ma'am" is fine. The Duke of Edinburgh is called "Your Royal Highness" first and then "sir." But the Queen and the Duke want people to feel comfortable, so don't get too hung up on the titles. Just be very polite. "Relax and be yourself," advised Dwight MacAulay, the province's protocol boss. "The Queen would expect nothing else from you."
You can bow or curtsey if you want. It's a nice touch, but it's not mandatory. For men, a deep nod of the head is fine. For women, place the right foot behind the left heel and bend the knees a bit.
Dress nicely but don't go nuts. The Queen is famous for her hats, and many excited monarchist don fancy hats in her honour, but the Queen's staff are clear: She doesn't want anyone going to any added expense to see her. Unless you are among the 75 people invited to lunch, a nice casual outfit is fine.